Youth Diversion Programs Receive National Support

by Heather Scheiwe Kulp
February 2011

From the Just Court ADR blog

Heather Scheiwe Kulp

At the American Bar Association’s Mid-Year meeting, the delegates adopted Resolution 107B, which urges governments to support the creation of programs that divert alleged juvenile offenders into alternative dispute resolution systems. These systems, including peer courts, victim-offender mediation, restorative justice conferences, truancy mediation, and community mentoring/service, not only work to keep youth out of jails, but can also prevent juvenile records, which impact future educational and employment opportunities, from developing.

“Restorative justice,” the term often used to describe these processes, is, according to the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation, “a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behaviour. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders.”

The ABA resolution asserts that restorative justice should not be limited to one-time offenders, as restorative practices can reshape lives regardless of how many encounters with the court system a teen may have had. Stephan Campagna, a teen who benefited from a youth court program in Florida, was accused of 27 felonies. After being “sentenced” to 150 hours of community service and 18 youth court jury duties, he realized he had a choice about how he wanted to live his life. He’s now a law student starting a youth court in Nassau County, New York.

Benefits to diversion programs go beyond the direct impact on youth. Youth courts save states money and reduce recidivism rates by much higher percentages than traditional juvenile courts. About 1,050 youth court programs exist throughout the U.S.

The ABA resolution recommends that courts especially support these programs by referring juvenile cases directly to alternative systems. This is especially important since court-connected youth diversion programs only account for 42% of all youth diversion programs. The resolution also recommends that governments support (I assume financially) research and evaluation of these programs, an important aspect of program design. See more about alternative dispute resolution systems designed for youth here, then search under case type “juvenile.”


After graduating from Northwestern University School of Law in 2010, Ms. Kulp began a Skadden Fellowship managing RSI's Statewide Mediation Access Project (SMAP). As RSI's Staff Attorney, Ms. Kulp develops court mediation programs to meet pressing legal needs of low-income Illinois residents. She provides courts and local community organizations assistance with training, goal-setting, design and implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. Ms. Kulp is also analyzing court referral models to develop a replicable framework for other states' court mediation programs.

Prior to law school, Ms. Kulp was Founder and Executive Director of Alive Magazine, a non-profit alternative magazine for teen girls based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is a volunteer mediator with the Center for Conflict Resolution in Chicago and a member of the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution.

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